by Bart Potter
UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – The early line on who will win the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay Golf Course is … Chambers Bay Golf Course.
The world’s best players might leave the course in shreds – four days of play will tell – or leave the tournament in tears. Nobody is betting much on the former. The golf course, its designer and the shaper of the bumps and turns and twists of the course setup were in the front of the conversation Tuesday at Chambers Bay.
The golf course: fast and firm and anything but flat.
The designer: Robert Trent Jones Jr.
The shaper – and master manipulator – of the length of holes and the placement of pins and tees: Mike Davis, USGA executive director, as hands-on as any exec who ever had a hand in a championship setup.
Tiger Woods’ press conference Tuesday morning yielded an unusual question from an atypical questioner: Trent Jones Jr.
JONES: Tiger, this is Bobby Jones. We’ve known each other since you were 14. I appreciate you being forthright and honest about my golf course and all the odd bounces you’re going to get. Do you think we gave you enough alternatives to play it in different ways, and is this a thinking golfer’s championship as well as a shotmaker’s?
WOODS: Well, it’s a golf course in which how you built it is that we have so many options. What we don’t know, none of the people in this room know and all the players don’t know, we don’t know what Mike (Davis) is going to do and when he’s going to do it. What tees he’s going to move up, what tees he’s going to leave back, and to what pin locations, where he’s going to put them at. We have a general idea. But it’s unlike any other major championship I’ve ever had to prepare for, having to hit so many different tee shots. There’s three or four different tee shots on almost every hole.
So many different options that it’s … one of the harder Opens, or any championship, to prepare for given that there’s so many variables. Yeah, can you run the ball up? Yeah, you can. But then again sometimes you really can’t. You’ve got to throw the ball up in order to keep it somewhat from going over the back.
It’s going to be interesting to see what Mike does. I’m kind of happy that I’m playing actually in the afternoon the first day, get a chance to watch what some of the guys do in the morning to get a feel for it and see what’s going on.
Players as designers: Woods, and later Phil Mickelson, were each asked about their work as golf-course designers.
Q. Could you talk about how your work in design has maybe helped you see this course and what you take away from it that you really like that you’d like to incorporate elsewhere?
WOODS: My design work … my favorite golf is links golf. And I love being able to use the ground to run the ball up. I love that option. Not having forced carries. Most amateurs can’t hit a 3-iron, 4-iron, 5-iron straight up in the air and have it spin. And it’s hard. I like having run-up areas so amateurs can run the ball up. This golf course allows us to do that.
I’ve always been against forced carries unless the topography absolutely forces you to do it. I’ve never been asked so far in my early design work to design a championship golf course … for a tournament of some level. That’s not what the landowners have wanted from me, and hence my designs are certainly much easier than our championship venues that we play. If I’m ever asked to design a golf course that ultimately will host a big event … then, yeah, I’ll make some different choices of how I design the golf course.
But the courses I’ve designed have been on the softer side and (I) try to make sure that the guys and women find their golf balls when they play, and not (have) forced carries. The most frustrating thing is when you lose golf balls. I think that it’s nice to have a round where you don’t lose golf balls. And on top of that, it speeds up play. We’re talking about how can we speed up play. Well, design golf courses that are a little more friendly, not so hard and not so forced to hit the ball straight up in the air with spin.
Q. Phil, is it true that your golf course design team was in on this piece of property before it became Chambers Bay? And if so, how involved were you on that? Is this something that you would have envisioned the way it came out?
MICKELSON: We were involved in the bidding process and one of the final selections. And I thought it was a spectacular piece of property. But it wouldn’t have turned out anything like this, no. Not good or bad, I think it’s a wonderful course. My vision was totally different.